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Patrick McCarthy <[log in to unmask]>
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Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 13 Aug 1994 23:26:15 -0700
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                        A MONOCULAR REPORT

    The editor of DICKNS-L is suffering from multitudinousness.
The malady was all but unavoidable last week amid the towering
redwoods of the UC Santa Cruz campus where Dickensians of every
stripe met and talked and listened and argued, aired their
predilections, and enjoyed one another's company.  The occasion
of course was what Philip Collins recently characterized as "the
largest, most substantial and most learned annual Dickens event"
(DICKENSIAN, Spring '94), the modestly entitled "Dickens


    HARD TIMES.  FOR THESE TIMES.  So reads the 1854 title page
of the novel chosen as this year's focal work, and if it was not
quite possible to forget the present hard times in Rwanda, Bos-
nia, and to a dramatically lesser degree California, it was
impossible to ignore the delights of a week which began with a
three-ring talk (film clips, slides, and music) by JOSS MARSH on
"The Dickens Circus" and ended with a Dickensian conjuror and
howl-inducing performance from members of the Pickle Family
Circus.  HARD TIMES and circuses:  no wonder that work and play
were the dominating themes of the week.


    Even the serious goings-on for the graduate students began
lightly enough with JOHN GLAVIN working his dramatic relaxational
magic before their hours of thoughtful talk with seminar leaders
(under the leadership of CAROL MACKAY) and their conducting of
daily workshops for enrollees.  The faculty was busy enough lead-
ing discussion sessions at 8:30 in the morning, giving and
attending the thrice-daily lectures, taking part in their own
daily seminars (under the leadership of Gerhard Joseph), partici-
pating in planning sessions, and (dare one say?) discussing their
own current projects.  (I heard the term "networking" four


    The numbers of the general public attending--teachers, Dick-
ens fans, Victorian enthusiasts--exceeded those of past years and
included a full complement of Elderhostelers.  Small wonder: with
so much to do at several levels of involvement and expertise, the
goings-on are both welcoming and engaging.  In my delightful,
high-energy morning sessions, where we discussed HARD
TIMES and the general lectures, I heard the same talk character-
ized as too complicated, interesting and fresh, and overly simple
and familiar.  I got a sense of each of us moving in our own
dimensions of knowledge and interest, adding to or discarding
from them as we would or could.


    HARD TIMES and the Universe brought out its usual varieties
of approaches.  My students thought that the early lecture by
ANNE HUMPHERYS helped them read a novel not previously available
to them.  In her own words, she revisited "the issues of marriage
and divorce" in the novel, and traced its relations with "popular
fictions, debates in the press leading up to the 1857 Divorce and
Matrimonial Causes Act, and aspects of Dickens's biography."
Had anyone before, I wondered, thought to consider Mrs. Sparsit
as a social victim or puzzled as to why at the end Dickens
deliberately envisions a happy and full life for Louisa Gradgrind
only to smash to bits any such dreams for her?

    In the first afternoon session FRED KAPLAN compared the hand-
ling of Dickens's death in three major biographies, Edgar
Johnson's, Peter Ackroyd's, and Kaplan's own.  In such a key
scene, he contended, the biographer must keep close to what is
relevant, not distort what the event signalled for Dickens and
his family, and not intrude (or elide) his own beliefs as to the
meaning of the death.

   Concluding the first day's lectures, PHILIP COLLINS addressed
the familiar question of how "realistic" Dickens's novels were,
or were intended to be.  Quotations from Bagehot, Chesterton, and
Humphry House stress the uniqueness, completeness and
impossibility of that world, and Collins insisted Dickens knew
what he was he about.  He noted Dickens's paradoxical statements
on his mingling the fanciful with the factual, of his making "a
little fanciful photograph in my mind" and arranging for  "a
little standing-room for Queen Mab's chariot among the Steam

    TUESDAY: Other obligations kept your editor from attending
what all spoke of as a charming, beautifully organized lecture by
LEONA TOKER (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) on "HARD TIMES, and a
Critique of Utopia," and (in the evening) a closely considered
talk by NICK VISSER (University of Cape Town) on Dickens's pen-
chant for exaggerating the dangerousness of political crowds to
make "a broad, bold, hurried effect."  In the afternoon, your
editor gave a talk of his own on the words of HARD TIMES, part of
his long-incubated project on the subject now being pushed and
pulled along by computer analyses.

    In WEDNESDAY's major talk, ELOISE HAY used Max Weber as her
central entry figure to argue that Dickens both criticized "the
Protestant ethic" and promoted it.  She found that "Calvin's
association of worldly prosperity with proofs of divine election
leave(s) traces in most of the novels, especially in their
endings."  Making connections for this idea in several of the
novels and bringing in Freud and Huizinga to enrich her dis-
course, Professor Hay sought to "throw light on both Dickens the
sociologist and Weber the novelist."

    Though I had to miss the afternoon talk by MARGARET FLANDERS
DARBY, her generous descriptive handout made me regret my
absence.  Entitled "Joseph Paxton's Water Lily," the lecture
appears to have been an extended meditation on the symbolism and
cultural meanings of Paxton's nurturing of the giant South
American water lily VICTORIA REGIA at the estate of the Duke of
Devonshire.  He caused it to grow until it produced a flower a
yard in circumference and made necessary its containment and the
construction of a special lily house, for it had outgrown a
series of tanks.

    Considering the phenomenon makes M. F. Darby think of the
cultivation and repression of Victorian womanhood, and of the
paradoxical uses of conservatories in luxurious houses.  Their
spaces, both nurturing and controlling, she connects with the
"larger cultural system of sexual politics."  "To read this space
in modern critical terms," her summary concludes, "makes legible
the contradictions and ironies of the places occupied by the dis-
possessed, showing that what seems natural can also be seen as
highly artificial...."

    By contrast to the two earlier talks of the day, DEBORAH
THOMAS'S evening discourse entitled "Whole Hogs and Broken Bits"
focussed closely on that "whole-some" image, familiar in its day,
to test it as an expanded implied metaphor in HARD TIMES and con-
trast it with the novel's broken "Bitzers."  She noted that Dick-
ens used the metaphor explicitly in his journalism to satirize
"extreme pet theories," and in HARD TIMES (adapting a Greenblatt
quotation) conducted through it "a negotiation between a creator
or class of creators, equipped with a complex, community shared
repertoire of conventions, and the institutions and practices of

THURSDAY:       REGENIA GAGNIER'S recent forays into "the norma-
tive evisceration" of economics in the nineteenth century (VS,
Winter 1993) bore further fruit in the conference as she
delivered a wide-ranging discourse entitled "HARD TIMES and Eco-
nomics."  Beginning with an explanation of certain economic terms
as used by Adam Smith and interpreted by Marx, the talk went on
to subject the new-home economics of the Chicago School, represented by
Robert Pollak and Richard Posner, to a devastating
exposition.  Their hardline user-benefit theories had some of us
thinking that the coldness of such nineteenth century for-
mulations as the Iron Law of Wages was being matched and over-
matched by the rigorous inhumanity of the Chicagoans.

    Moving then from modern to nineteenth-century thought and
back again, Gagnier settled for a time on  HARD TIMES and after
that on Trollope's THE WAY WE LIVE NOW both to applaud and
criticize the novelists' perceptions of their economic worlds.
Dickens, for example, came in for both praise (as exemplary in
challenging any simple dichotomy between the private and public
sectors) and blame (for not making clear the one-sidedness of a
system which favored owners over labor).

    In his afternoon talk MARTIN ZERLANG (U. of Copenhagen)
called attention to the replacement of "the participatory
entertainments of pre-Victorian culture" by "purely visual spec-
tacles": the circus, the zoological gardens, the panoramas, and
so on.  The change he attributed to the all-consuming, anxiety-
producing nature of Victorian daytime activity.  "People
muth be amuthed" because their powers of attention had been
exhausted.  At the same time the need for pleasure was
increasingly satisfied by the very technological and organiza-
tional nature of their workaday lives.  People wanted entertain-
ments that reflected the punctuality, order, and neatness of
their bourgeois sensibilities.  The result was the production of
"a spectacular world of precision and beauty" (Robert A. Jones),
visual spectacles that necessitated hard, disciplined work.  Zer-
lang's central argument then was "that these `purely visual spec-
tacles' can be interpreted as sources to `the civilizing

    The pervasiveness of work-play themes in the conference was
again evidenced by CATHERINE GALLAGHER's engaging discourse
entitled "Melancholy Monsters and the Dismal Science."  As her
talk developed, her early quote "Qui laborat, orat" (quoted in
SYBIL) might have been expanded to "Qui ludet, laborat."   For so
much did a culture of work dominate Victorian thinking that even
the society's players (instanced here as the "horse-riding")
worked and damaged themselves as a matter of course.  The
categories and uses of work, as we know, came in for much
consideration by Ruskin and Carlyle, with the political
economy of the day their dark enemy.  So, too, was the case with
several novelists, but e'en so--and here was Gallagher's
argument--the positions of "the dismal science" were mirrored by
the very novelists who thought they opposed them.

    We were reminded that Dickens more often than seldom thought
himself going melancholy mad from work.  But work he must, on
grounds both personal and public.  Work, he believed, makes pos-
sible THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, and thus subscribed to a labor
theory of value.

    All the talks, I say frankly, were both more complex
and detailed than I have been able to catch here.  Nor have I
been able to include much else that went on during the week.
Principally I have omitted the late-afternoon teas and events
sponsored by the Friends of the Dickens Project:  talks by DAVID
SPRINGHORN--in which the motif of play (except for the perform-
ers) dominated any sense of work.  More relaxed than demanding,
too, was a final wrap-up early morning panel in which the morning
lecturers responded to questions solicited beforehand by John
Glavin from the conferees.

    For reasons having nothing to do with excessive indulgence in
"Post-Prandial Potations," dessert parties, late-night films, or
parties, all regular features of this annual John Jordan-Murray
Baumgarten show, I had to leave for Santa Barbara before the
scholarly weekend conference on Victorian Work had fairly begun.
Two hands I especially made a point of shaking, that of ROBERT
TRACY, who was responsible for organizing this year's Universe,
and that of Linda Hooper, principal overseer, helper, and friend
to us all.


    I should much like to hear from those attending how the
week-end scholarly conference (organized by John Jordan and
Hilary Schor) had gone.  What papers were most interesting,
informative, or even contestable?   I should like, too, to hear
from graduate students about both the Universe and the conference,
as well as about their reactions to the whole week,--and so too
I believe would the 250 subscribers to DICKNS-L.

Patrick McCarthy
UC Santa Barbara